Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Punchline As Stereotype

A psychologist friend told me this joke today. I had heard variations on it, but he tells jokes well and I didn't interrupt him.
A guy walks into a bar and sees a robot bartender. He asks for a drink and watches as the robot creates it beautifully and precisely. The robot hands over the drink. "What's your IQ?" he asks. The man answers, perhaps exaggerating for reasons of ego, 145.
"I read something interesting about string theory recently..." began the robot, and they had a pleasant conversation for a quarter hour, the customer pleased, but barely keeping up. Amazing, he thought. How do they do that?

The man decides to go back and test this again. He orders a drink, watches the robot bartender's meticulous preparation, and receives the drink as the robot asks "What's your IQ?" 100, the man answers, and enters into a very interesting conversation about NASCAR.

The blogger steps aside to note: hmm. Not unkind, but a stereotype is in play here.

The man decides to entertain himself further, and repeats his bar adventures for a third night. The robot again skillfully makes a drink and asks "What's your IQ?"

55, the man answers, and the robot bartender says...

Fill in your stereotype here, eh? The joke has been set up to illustrate that someone is stoopid. The entire joke, in fact, depends on a stereotype. Whatever words one puts in the robot's mouth, the joke has been set up so that it only works if both the speaker and hearer agree on the stereotype. I first read the joke criticizing Georgians -- How 'bout them Dawgs? You can pick on whoever you like with this. It's really not particularly funny. It derives its humor entirely from the stereotype.

By putting in a cute inversion, it can be made funnier. In the mouth of a black comedian, for example, the punchline "Aint those niggers stupid?" has a wry twist to it. You can get that extra twist by having the IQ 55 victims think someone else is stupid. My psychologist friend, BTW, used the line "So, you planning to vote for Bush again?" It's funny only if you share the stereotype. And I could use it for my own purposes as well, with a simple statement written in Norwegian, or anything emblematic of Vermonters, or a particular school of psychology or linguistics, or some prominent liberal. But it's only really funny if you can add in that turning of the tables.

Boy, is Bush ignorant or what?


Anonymous said...

Tangent: a 14 year old told me a joke a few days ago with the picked-on stereotype group being slaves!

I know this kid's family and was pretty surprised and advised him to change the group in the joke, and it would still be funny. He said he already had changed it. When he heard the joke it was about mexicans! I guess he knows lots of mexicans but no slaves so he figured that was an improvement.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

There's a sermon in there somewhere, but darned if I can figure out what it is.

Anonymous said...

AVI, perhaps the sermon is the seeming need that many (most?) of us have to look down on someone else for what ever reason. This is of course, the source of many stereotypes even if a hint of truth may lie behind the stereotype. Ah well, at least the Robot could talk about liberalism with the guy with a 55 IQ. ;-)